It feels like Groundhog Day

It feels like Groundhog Day

February 2020

Odour nuisance keeps coming back 

The Environment Agency published its Newbridge Farm Briefing No. 11 on 5 February. Sadly, we are experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu because nothing has really changed since Newbridge Farm's operator, Hook 2 Sisters (H2S), agreed to keep the bird numbers to a maximum of 133,500 in March 2019. H2S is still being allowed by the EA to try different, ineffective approaches, like the deodorising system, but we are still enduring and reporting unacceptable levels of odour with no real sign of a substantial and positive change to the situation. Although the EA thanks us again in the Briefing for our patience, we have been suffering from the odour nuisance for over three years now and our patience has expired.

We met with the EA's Area Manager on Friday 14 February and pressed him again as to why no formal enforcement or legal action has been taken against the operator. In an email we received from him on 9 January, he stated that “…since the current level of complaints does not tell me that the site is significantly failing to comply with its environmental permit, I am not compelled to pursue formal action at this stage”. We explained that we thought he was misguided by a poorly timed snapshot view of the situation. We highlighted our own analysis of complaints data we received from the EA that shows quite clearly a trend in the number of reported complaints dropping over autumn and winter and picking up again in spring and summer, from which anyone can predict that the number of complaints will start rising before too long (see the chart). There are several factors we believe that correlate with the trend of reduced numbers of complaints during autumn and winter:

  • As the days become shorter and the weather becomes more inclement during autumn and winter, people’s amenity is less likely to be affected because they will be outdoors less and detect the odour less frequently;
  • The weather patterns over winter often bring Easterly winds, which take the odour away from the populated areas of Hackness and East Huntspill and disperse it over open countryside before it affects areas around West Huntspill (although we detected and reported the odour a mile away in Highbridge in December 2019 despite the lower number of birds); and
  • The lower ambient temperatures in autumn and winter help keep the birds at a reasonable temperature inside the sheds, which means the fans pushing out the odour are likely to be activated less frequently.

More generally, some people have become weary of reporting the odour because the lack of any significant action by the EA to reduce or stop the odour nuisance has resulted in a loss in faith and trust that something is actually being done to address the situation. We also believe that because the locals in the immediate area surrounding Newbridge Farm have been so successful in getting the number of birds reduced through their complaints, the odour no longer seems to be adversely affecting the more densely populated parts of East Huntspill, thus resulting in an overall lower number of complaints being made to the EA. 

We also expressed our concern that publicly available information from the EA shows that they only carried out four compliance assessment visits of Newbridge Farm in 2019 (compliance score 43), compared to eleven in 2018 (score compliance 264) and six in 2017 (compliance score 159). The EA’s own information seems to confirm our perception that in 2019, the EA let H2S off the hook and, despite assertions otherwise, has let us down.

The relevant non-compliance categories are based on risks and scored accordingly:

  • Risk category 2 non-compliances (C2) score 31 points - These are associated with a significant impact on human health, quality of life or the environment
  • Risk category 3 non-compliances (C3) score 4 points - These are associated with a minor impact on human health, quality of life or the environment

According to the EA’s website:

"At the end of each compliance year, the scores for non-compliance are added together to generate a compliance band:

  • A = 0 points
  • B = 0.1 to 10 points
  • C = 10.1 to 30 points
  • D = 30.1 to 60 points
  • E = 60.1 to 149.9 points
  • F - more than 150 points

Sites in compliance bands A and B have demonstrated an expected level of permit compliance. Sites in compliance bands C and D must improve in order to achieve permit compliance. Sites in compliance bands E and F must significantly improve in order to achieve permit compliance; these sites are more likely to have their permit revoked unless there is substantial evidence that they are working towards achieving compliance in a timely manner."

So why hasn't H2S's Environmental Permit been revoked...? After all, their track record speaks for itself, as we discovered from an article in the ENDS magazine (11 April 2019) that H2S was the most non-compliant Environmental Permit holder in England and Wales in 2017 with 146 breaches of permit conditions. Out of the nine Category 2 breaches for H2S identified by the ENDS analysis, our own analysis revealed that five of those nine related to the non-compliances at one site; yes, you've guessed it - Newbridge Farm!

We will be publishing details of our meeting soon. By coincidence, the day of our meeting happened to be the day our local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, met the Environment Agency's Regional Director, at which the odour nuisance from Newbridge Farm was an agenda item. Again, we expect details to emerge from that soon and will publish what we can.

Keep watching this space and our Facebook page for more up to date posts.

February 2020

Odour nuisance keeps coming back 

The Environment Agency published its Newbridge Farm Briefing No. 11 on 5 February. Sadly, we are experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu because nothing has really changed since Newbridge Farm's operator, Hook 2 Sisters (H2S), agreed to keep the bird numbers to a maximum of 133,500 in March 2019. H2S is still being allowed by the EA to try different, ineffective approaches, like the deodorising system, but we are still enduring and reporting unacceptable levels of odour with no real sign of a substantial and positive change to the situation. Although the EA thanks us again in the Briefing for our patience, we have been suffering from the odour nuisance for over three years now and our patience has expired.

We met with the EA's Area Manager on Friday 14 February and pressed him again as to why no formal enforcement or legal action has been taken against the operator. In an email we received from him on 9 January, he stated that “…since the current level of complaints does not tell me that the site is significantly failing to comply with its environmental permit, I am not compelled to pursue formal action at this stage”. We explained that we thought he was misguided by a poorly timed snapshot view of the situation. We highlighted our own analysis of complaints data we received from the EA that shows quite clearly a trend in the number of reported complaints dropping over autumn and winter and picking up again in spring and summer, from which anyone can predict that the number of complaints will start rising before too long (see the chart). There are several factors we believe that correlate with the trend of reduced numbers of complaints during autumn and winter:

  • As the days become shorter and the weather becomes more inclement during autumn and winter, people’s amenity is less likely to be affected because they will be outdoors less and detect the odour less frequently;
  • The weather patterns over winter often bring Easterly winds, which take the odour away from the populated areas of Hackness and East Huntspill and disperse it over open countryside before it affects areas around West Huntspill (although we detected and reported the odour a mile away in Highbridge in December 2019 despite the lower number of birds); and
  • The lower ambient temperatures in autumn and winter help keep the birds at a reasonable temperature inside the sheds, which means the fans pushing out the odour are likely to be activated less frequently.

More generally, some people have become weary of reporting the odour because the lack of any significant action by the EA to reduce or stop the odour nuisance has resulted in a loss in faith and trust that something is actually being done to address the situation. We also believe that because the locals in the immediate area surrounding Newbridge Farm have been so successful in getting the number of birds reduced through their complaints, the odour no longer seems to be adversely affecting the more densely populated parts of East Huntspill, thus resulting in an overall lower number of complaints being made to the EA. 

We also expressed our concern that publicly available information from the EA shows that they only carried out four compliance assessment visits of Newbridge Farm in 2019 (compliance score 43), compared to eleven in 2018 (score compliance 264) and six in 2017 (compliance score 159). The EA’s own information seems to confirm our perception that in 2019, the EA let H2S off the hook and, despite assertions otherwise, has let us down.

The relevant non-compliance categories are based on risks and scored accordingly:

  • Risk category 2 non-compliances (C2) score 31 points - These are associated with a significant impact on human health, quality of life or the environment
  • Risk category 3 non-compliances (C3) score 4 points - These are associated with a minor impact on human health, quality of life or the environment

According to the EA’s website:

"At the end of each compliance year, the scores for non-compliance are added together to generate a compliance band:

  • A = 0 points
  • B = 0.1 to 10 points
  • C = 10.1 to 30 points
  • D = 30.1 to 60 points
  • E = 60.1 to 149.9 points
  • F - more than 150 points

Sites in compliance bands A and B have demonstrated an expected level of permit compliance. Sites in compliance bands C and D must improve in order to achieve permit compliance. Sites in compliance bands E and F must significantly improve in order to achieve permit compliance; these sites are more likely to have their permit revoked unless there is substantial evidence that they are working towards achieving compliance in a timely manner."

So why hasn't H2S's Environmental Permit been revoked...? After all, their track record speaks for itself, as we discovered from an article in the ENDS magazine (11 April 2019) that H2S was the most non-compliant Environmental Permit holder in England and Wales in 2017 with 146 breaches of permit conditions. Out of the nine Category 2 breaches for H2S identified by the ENDS analysis, our own analysis revealed that five of those nine related to the non-compliances at one site; yes, you've guessed it - Newbridge Farm!

We will be publishing details of our meeting soon. By coincidence, the day of our meeting happened to be the day our local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, met the Environment Agency's Regional Director, at which the odour nuisance from Newbridge Farm was an agenda item. Again, we expect details to emerge from that soon and will publish what we can.

Keep watching this space and our Facebook page for more up to date posts.

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